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forwardmarchstudios Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2017 10:27 p.m. PST

Hi all,

Quick question, and I'm sure there are people on here who will have a good answer on this.

If one was going to show a single skirmisher deployment that would be more or less exemplary for the period, how would one do it?

I mean, what would it look like? I know the French skirmished in pairs at a prescribed distance between pairs- was this done by other armies? If so, what were the distances? Chenin the open at least, the screen would move at a set, even pace across the line, to the order of bugles and horns, right?

And there would be a support position between the screen and the actual skirmish line as well, correct?



Ahh, I found some good info here, from the English version of Kriegspiel form 1815. (and TooFatLardies)

Skirmish Positions
When skirmish platoons move forward to 100 paces in front of the main battalion line half or more of them will stay in close order on the wings as supports while the rest will go about 150 paces further ahead to form the skirmish line. These will work in pairs and will spread out the width of the battalion line. The men left behind the line are the reserves. There should be about five to 10 paces between each pair in the skirmish line. If they come under enemy cavalry attack they are meant to fall back on the supports and form rallying squares as best they can.

If more men are needed in the skirmish line, or if casualties need to be replaced, men go forward from the supports, and these in turn are replaced from the reserve.

1. It is quite against usage to use all of the skirmishers at once in the skirmish line. However, for particular tactical objectives, such as occupying woods, could one use the whole, or nearly all, in open order.
2. The great usefulness of the skirmish line makes for its frequent usage but also, unfortunately, it can result in many losses. In the 1809 to 1815 war hardly a single light company officer did not receive a ‘blessing' (wound) at some time.
3. It is a rule that one should not try to reach an objective with skirmishers other than through firepower, and well aimed, steady, close range fire at that. All ineffective fire should be avoided as well as any kind of fighting which upsets their calm firing. As such fights between skirmishers will not be anything other than fire-fights.

Skirmishers with Columns
Skirmishers used with advancing columns, both in advance and in the intervals between columns of attack.

forwardmarchstudios Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2017 11:58 p.m. PST

Wow, lots of interesting stuff in here on skirmishers:

Infantry Attacks
• Infantry in Line Attacked by Battalion Column will use Die 1 for equal strength
• Infantry Line versus Infantry Line will use Die 1 for equal strength

In both cases, if the line is beaten it will be ‘Defeated' even if the Die gives ‘Repulsed'.

Infantry in Line Attacked by Two or more Battalion Mass Columns for equal strength Die 2 with advantage to the battalion-mass will be used. If the attack does not succeed the column is ‘Defeated' even if the Die gives ‘R', and ‘Totally Defeated' if the Die gives ‘D' or ‘T', and ‘Totally Defeated' if, in any circumstances, they are pursued by cavalry whilst retreating.

B. Infantry
The infantry are only involved in these considerations if there is a flank attack against a deployed line or column of route, and if the attacking cavalry are not more than 600 paces away when they are making for the flank (attacking infantry not more than 300 paces away when making a flank attack).



1) According to current tactics the infantry attack takes place in columns, with skirmishers in front or in the intervals between columns. The defenders have either the same formation or they are in line with skirmishers deployed in front to give cover from the enemy skirmishers.

2) It follows that each bayonet attack will be preceded by a skirmish attack whose outcome will influence the mass attack that is to follow. The battalions whose skirmishers have been thrown back will have to endure the enemy skirmish fire until the hand-to-hand attack takes place. The skirmish fight can be dealt with according to the usual rules.

3) If the attack skirmishers are forced to retire the column can either renew the attack with fresh skirmishers while the column halts, or they can continue the advance with a point less. (If each skirmish line is about two hundred paces in front of their own troops, and there are two or three hundred paces between the skirmish lines, the battalions are still maybe 700 or more paces apart. I don't think the committee means to suggest that the column can be halted when it is within range of the enemy line. Ed)

4) If the defending skirmishers are thrown back the defenders can accept the attack without skirmishers and with a point less. Or they can retire 200 and send out fresh skirmishers. (200 paces at least if in the open – less if there is a convenient terrain obstacle to fall back on). Whether the defenders are deployed or not does not matter here, apart from any casualties to the skirmishers.

5) If the attacking skirmishers are driven in a second time they can be replaced again, but only after an interval of one move. The same is true of defending skirmishers.

6) Casualties to skirmishers should be noted in case they build up to a point where the strength of the battalion is affected.

Note on skirmishers. In the Prussian army at this time the third rank was used for skirmishers. When skirmish order was called the third rank would form four squads of about 25 men each behind the line – two on the left and two on the right. At either end one of the squads would stay behind the line as reserve, the other would advance forward about 100 paces. At 100 paces half the forward squad at each end would stay in close order as supports, and the rest (about 25 men) would advance another 250 paces or so and working in pairs would spread out to cover the length of the line with about 5 to 10 paces between each pair. If the skirmish line suffered casualties they would be replenished from the supports, which in turn could be replenished from the reserves. In the case of skirmishers ahead of the column, the reserves would stay behind the column and the supports and skirmishers would advance in
front of it. For skirmishers in the intervals, again the reserves would take up position behind the column, and the skirmishers would spread out to either side of the battalion, with their supports at a small distance behind them. If the opposition drove in a battalion's skirmish line I presume the reserves would have to be sent out to replace them which would be bound to take a few minutes, especially if the had to advance some 350 paces forwards.

Now this is very interesting. Here, the success or failure of the skirmish lines preparation of the enemy units could be decisive on the following battle between the columns. I find it interesting that the authors have seen fit to expressly give the defenders the option, upon their own skirmishers being defeated, of automatically retreating 200m and deploying fresh skirmishers. Likewise, they expressly give the attacker, should his skirmishers be driven off, the option to refresh the skirmish line, or to proceed at a disadvantage.

Reading the kriegspiel book is definitely changing my mind about a few things. One is the number of casualties that could be inflicted by skirmishers. They added up, fast, against formed units. For example:

A battalion of Red infantry has deployed its normal complement of four skirmish Platoons which are now in an open field engaging Blue's skirmishers at a range of 150 paces. They roll 4 on the die, resulting in 17 points of hits on the target; however there are four Platoons so this is doubled to 34 points. As their enemy are in skirmish formation 3 men equate to two points, resulting in a total of 51 casualties. Had the target been a battalion in three lines then this would have risen to 170 men, with one point being 5 men to reflect a denser target.
This is only from 2 minutes of fire, but bear in ind also that the battalions in this version are standardized 900 man battalions, not the smaller units of most battles.

marshalGreg Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2017 6:53 a.m. PST

That is the reason all battalions sent out skirmisher, whether they new how too skirmish or not.
Quatra Bra was a good example how the French skirmisher power, combined arms and terrain devastated the allied forces their, especially in the officer ranks. The British sent out a counter to drive them off several times through a semi-skirmisher ( open order- smaller interval then skirmish) company charge but had to pull them back in after a short distance (because of the cavalry threats/surprise attacks) just to have them return and be shot at again.

From Atkins Quatra- Bra

Carnage n Glory II computer supported play does this simulation very well.


Rod MacArthur20 Apr 2017 8:41 a.m. PST

Perhaps worth mentioning that, in the British Army as commanded by Wellington, skirmishers were deployed as Brigade screens (with all of the light companies in the Brigade combined into temporary small Light Battalions), and not by individual battalions deploying their own light companies.

You can read more about this on my website here:



marshalGreg Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2017 10:57 a.m. PST

Yes it is well documented that the British conducted the brigade screen with independent unit.
It is well documented in 1805/106 of the French doing the very same by regiment, by brigade and even by Division(but probably acted more of an avant guard then just a screen). It was most likely in practice in later years and against the British in the Peninsular war. I have not run across such documentation though yet that confirms/supports that summation.


Mike the Analyst20 Apr 2017 4:16 p.m. PST

See Cooper – A practical guide for the Light Infantry Officer


especially pages 75-85

RudyNelson20 Apr 2017 4:24 p.m. PST

Skirmishing tactics are in the US army manual even up to 1910. That was the latest one I got a copy of.

forwardmarchstudios Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2017 1:20 a.m. PST

All great responses, thanks.
I've been re-thinking skirmishing in light of a few comments i've dug up on here, and the kriegspiel observations.
It seems like maybe skirmishers weren't just the sideshow they are often made out to be, but rather an integral, even decisive aspect of infantry assaults. BillsFan1968 said something like that awhile ago; that skirmishers were actually the main deliverer of fire power, and the assault by the formed troops was really to take the terrain from troops who had already been worn down both in numbers and psychologically by skirmish firepower. A "fair fight" would be up in the air, but a properly prepped assault plan which included skirmishers and artillery would result in an advantage for the attacker. Kriegspiel seems to indicate this; only a few minutes of uncontested skirmish attacks as noted above would reduce unit to combat ineffectiveness.

I feel that a war-game predicated upon that dynamic would be quite interesting.

42flanker21 Apr 2017 1:48 a.m. PST

The battle of Bussaco 1810 can be seen as a classic example of skirmishers on both sides serving as a crumple zone for the 'formed' troops. On the British side, the decisive firepower was nonetheless delivered by the British line.

In consideration of this question, it cannot be assumed that the playing field is level. At Bussaco, terrain, that is to say Wellington's choice of position, was the key element.

Sparta21 Apr 2017 1:55 a.m. PST

The more I read about Napoleonics the more I feel that skirmishers were often the main action unless an all ou assault was being made – and even theese were preceeded by a lot of skirmishing and followed by a lot of skirmishing. If you look at Lutzen you have several divisons from each side more or less fully deployed as skirmishers/semiskirmisher/mobs in between the four towns.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2017 7:51 a.m. PST

The problem for Napoleonic officers what that skirmishing, while annoying, attritional and often damaging, wasn't 'decisive' or battle-winning But it couldn't be avoided.
Keegan called Waterloo a 10 hour skirmish punctuated by 5 formed attacks collectively taking up about two to three hours.

Here is French officer Pelet describing Ney's attack at Bussaco, an attack that Oman describes as columns being beaten by British volleys.

"Our brigade, attacked on its flank by artillery, was thrown to the left of the road. After fighting for some time, it found itself almost entirely dispersed into groups of skirmishers, and in the end it was found necessary to support this unit with the second brigade. Thus we covered the entire slope below the convent of Bussaco while the enemy successively reinforced their line of skirmishers, hidden behind the rocks and the trees, but these allied troops were not allowed to stay there very long. They were recalled by horns and replaced by fresh troops – an excellent method neglected by us for too long. Our system permitted French regiments to be dispersed during a battle and in the end only the officers and the bravest soldiers were left, and they were completely disgusted, with having to fight for an entire day. The Portuguese were interspersed among the British; they acted perfectly, serving in covered positions. Nevertheless, our skirmishers gained ground on the enemy and from time to time pushed them beyond their reserves, which they were obliged to reinforce………Thus the day passed, skirmishing and losing men uselessly.

I cannot express how much aversion I have always had for skirmishing. It is difficult to imagine how much it costs in casualties or, as one might say – drop by drop. Two new attacks on the position, just like the first, would not have been more deadly."

As Jean Colin writes in his famous study of infantry tactics, L'Infanterie au XVIIIe siècle: la tactiques [The Infantry in the 18th Century: Tactics] 1907:

"To study the methods of combat with only the official documents or the combined accounts of battles, one risks distorting the character of them. It is a general fact in the history of wars, for example, that the skirmishers have played a role, often essential, always important, yet one seldom mentioned."

The description of skirmishing in Kriegspiel is only one form or level of skirmishing, the most basic kind.

Sparta22 Apr 2017 1:57 a.m. PST

Interesting quote and post McLaddie. I have been working for some years trying to get our Napoleonic rules better at representing skirmishing as it was done. I think the following factors needs to be represented:

1) Skirmishing is necessary if the enemy does it – unilateral skirmishing quickly deteriorates formed units performance.
2) It is prolonged and often static
3) It has more he character of attrition than decisive action
3) It requires reserves and supports to be effective
4) It drains a formation to the point of uselessness for formed action.

The interesting thing is, that it was my newer interest in the wars from 1859-1870 that made me see the Napoleonic
battlefield and skirmishing in a new light.

Anything else – any ideas?

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP22 Apr 2017 7:11 a.m. PST


I think there are several things that I see.

The first is because skirmishing was attritional and not decisive in an of itself, unlike infantry and cavalry charges… which often weren't as costly in the way of casualties as Pelet believes, as well as weakening the power of the formed troops [the decisive form], officers didn't like getting sucked into it. Gamers dislike it for the same reasons: messy, less than dramatic/decisive and it seems to take up too much time.

Second, skirmishing was far more fluid than is usually presented. For instance, the Kriegspiel example is a good one, but it is easy to forget that post 1806 Prussian practices which Kriegspiel is describing had Fusilier battalions dedicated to skirmishing in the first line, THEN the third rank of the line troops. That means that you could have a significant number of men out skirmishing… which was deemed necessary facing the French. 1/3 of the line and 2-3 battalions of fusiliers and/or Jagers for a Prussian Brigade.

At Bussaco, Loison' Division attacked Craufurd's weak division. By the end of the attack, Craufurd had deployed half his division as skirmishers [1500 men] and Loison in response had deployed all of his voltigeurs and THREE battalions of infantry.

Even Allied nations such as Austria and pre-1807 Prussia who are supposed to have not had the ability still deployed significant numbers of infantry [light AND line] as skirmishers.

Third, what seems to me to be the basic dynamic of skirmishing as related by Pelet was this question of how many skirmishers to deploy. Too many and your formed troops were rendered ineffective, too few and as he finishes the above narrative by saying:

I could not resist saying a few words. The skirmishing ended on our side and the enemy started it again. As a matter of fact, it was extremely difficult to stop bickering except by withdrawing our troops, and this was not without inconvenience for either advantageous terrain or the morale of the army. However, I do not think skirmishing can be allowed for its own sake in any case, unless it is to prepare attacks, cover movements, or momentarily detain the enemy at one point while they are being attacked or outmaneuvered at another. General Reynier had wisely withdrawn his troops and taken up positions. There was hardly any more fighting in this direction.

But the urge to deploy more and more skirmishers was always there because 'the other side' did and that would lose important terrain or weaken troop morale. As Archduke wrote in several places starting in 1794 through 1809:

'This misuse [of entire units as skirmishers] must be opposed because it weakens the impetus of the attack.'

'one always must observe the basic rule that only a small portion of the troops may be employed as skirmishers while the main body must be kept as a reserve in closed order to decide the issue.'

'Regular drilled and solid infantry, if they advance in lengthened paces courageously under artillery preparation, cannot be hindered by scattered skirmishers. They must charge neither with skirmishers nor Zug fire against the enemy line, except when the latter can be most effective, and with the greatest speed while maintaining good order, attack the enemy hard and overthrow them.'

You can hear what is a constant refrain from Austrian generals. Yet, the Austrians did deploy skirmishers which led Austrian generals to caution subordinates not to.

'To dissolve battalions into skirmish order would … be a mistake.' --Schwarzenberg, 1812

That warning is only meaningful if the Austrians were capable and able to 'dissolve' battalions into skirmish order.

So, to add to your list of factors, I would say:

1. The number of skirmishers any nation is capable of [or willing to] deploying is at least 25% of the total infantry through-out the wars. The Prussians deployed their entire third rank as skirmishers in 1792-5 according to Scharnhorst and others. The Prussians and Saxons ultimately deployed 25% at Jena 1806.

2. It was a game of who would deploy the most, sort of an arms race, where by unspoken agreement, both sides would limit their skirmishers to just enough to hold back the opposition.

3. The basic dynamic or trade-off is finding the balance between how many skirmishers to deploy and still keep an effective force of formed troops. The French answer was to deploy lots of skirmishers and use THEM as the firepower in any formed assault.

Sparta22 Apr 2017 8:08 a.m. PST

I totally agree with your points. The most difficult of your factors would propably be number 2. It is very hard in wargames mechanics to represent this staggered / incremental deployment. Usually mechanics avours bringing overwhelming force to the fight right away. It is actually the same with combats in towns. Historically batallions would often attack just a few at a time but most wargame rules favours overwhelming superiority with all attack by as many as you can squeeze into the fight.

Perhaps we generally favours numbers to much as compared with order and freshness.

forwardmarchstudios Supporting Member of TMP22 Apr 2017 11:25 a.m. PST

I'm curious about how a war-game modeled on kriegspiel would work. Now that I have manic 1:1 kriegspiel blocks, I' going to try out those rules. So, skirmishers as part of the assault- it takes time, but according to the rules, not that much time. This is how I read them:

1: One side decides to assault the other
2: The skirmishers deploy as the attacker advances. If met by enemy skirmishers, they fight. If one side's skirmishers are not driven off quickly, then the skirmisher battle will descend into a protracted firefight that becomes less efficient as it goes on, unless supported by more troops from the line. But by protracted, I don't feel that it means more than a few minutes. This is based on the casualty rates both above and in American Kriegspiel. We have to remember that this is an assault we're talking about.
3: If the defenders skirmishers are driven in and they are under direct skirmish attack they will either what and suffer the casualties that result or withdraw under a new skirmish line.
4: If the attackers skirmishers are driven back they will either attack with formed troops, which will by default push back the defenders skirmishers, or else reinforce the skirmish line with fresh troops.
5: A unit defending or attacking that has lost skirmish support is at a disadvantage when the formed units engage each other.
6: Hypothesis: The ideal situation for the attacker is to achieve skirmisher dominance, inflict heavy casualties through skirmish fire before launching the formed troops not the assault. The raw number of casualties plus psychological effects of the unanswered skirmish attack will significantly reduce the combat effectiveness of the defender. The result is that the attacking unit may only have to fire a volley or two to see off the enemy line, if its mere approach doesn't cause a withdrawal or a panic first.

Note: Time has to be factored into the equation to keep track of the rate of casualties- abstraction will result in an inaccurate portrayal of what happens, when and why. One additional piece, to make the game more suspenseful, would be to have the skirmishers place white smoke markers on the target unit each turn instead of rolling for actual effect. The attacker must commit his line troops to the attack first, and only once his troops get into contact do they find out how demoralized the enemy line actually is; the smoke are removed before the lines start shooting, and are resolved right before volley fire.

Sparta23 Apr 2017 2:01 a.m. PST

Hi Forwardmarch. I disagree. Bottom-up designs usually tend to get the wrong overall results as compared to top- down abstract designs. The effect of skirmishing was – as I see it – based only partly on casualties. When a skirmish line weakened it was due to disorder, fatigue ammunition shortages and troops filteirng away. The problem with poor skirmishers – whatever that actually means – is propably not about being bad at firing or taking cover but just as much about willingness to stay in a firing line where nobdoy kept you in place.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP23 Apr 2017 9:11 a.m. PST

I think these three quotes give some idea of what happens when inexperienced troops skirmish and the time involved…

Beamish, King's German Legion, vol. i, p.193 Action at Grijon, 11 May 1809, the British advance on Oporto:

"While the light troops of the legion were thus engaged, two companies of the first line battalion, under the command of captains Detmering and von Marshalk, and one company of the second line battalion under captain Langrehr, which had been sent to support the skirmishers, became also engaged with the French light infantry, whom they in like manner drove back, but not without some sacrifice; for captain Detmering was killed, captain Langrehr received a shot through the arm, and eight men were wounded."

Brett-James, Antony, ed., Edward Costello, The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns, Longmans, Green and Co Ltd, UK, 1967. [p.68]

Ordered to occupy a part of Fuentes, "The section to which I belonged were posted near the banks of the River Dos Casas. The 79th Highlanders had suffered very severely here, as the place was strewn about with their bodies. Poor fellows ! they had not been used to skirmishing, and instead of occupying the houses in the neighbourhood, and firing from the windows, they had, as I heard, exposed themselves, by firing in sections. The French, who still occupied part of the town, had not escaped rough handling, as their dead also evinced."

This second account is from Quatre Bras 1815. Captain McKenzie of the 79th Cameron Hightlanders, Kempt's Brigade, Picton's Division:

Scarcely had the division got into position when the enemy advanced to the attack. The light companies of the first brigade, with the 8th company and the marksmen of the 79th, were ordered out to skirmish and keep down the fire of the enemy's sharpshooters, which was causing heavy loss particularly amongst the officers. It was now a quarter to three o'clock. The light companies in front maintained their ground for an hour against the ever-increasing number of the enemy; but as his sharp-shooters had by this time picked off nearly all the artillerymen who were serving the only two British guns which had as yet come into action, and as he was becoming very threatening in the front, the Duke of Wellington, who was present with his staff, directed Sir Thomas Picton to detach a regiment to the front, in order to cover the guns, and drive the enemy from his advanced position. Sir James Kempt thereupon rode up to Colonel Douglas and said that the honour of executing His Grace's orders would devolve on the Cameron Highlanders.

The regiment accordingly cleared the bank in front, fired a volley as it advanced, and, charging with the bayonet, drove the French advanced troops with great precipitation and in disorder to a hedge about one hundred yards in rear, where they attempted to re-form, but were followed with such alacrity that they again gave way, pursued to another hedge about the same distance, from which they were again driven in great confusion upon their main column, which was formed on the rising ground opposite. the regiment, now joined by number 8 company, halted and formed up behind the last hedge and fired volleys at the enemy until all the ammunition was expended. Whilst in this critical position it was ordered to retire, which it accomplished without confusion, although it had to re-pass the first hedge and cross deep ditch, and formed line about fifty yards in front of its original position. Here it was ordered to lie down as it was much exposed to the enemy's fire, and it remained lying down for about an hour, when it was again ordered to its original position in the Namur road.

This is from Rory Muir's book Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon pp. 65-66. He says

In this case the losses inflicted by the French skirmishers were unusually heavy, for the Camerons lost two officers and twenty-eight men killed, sixteen officers and 259 men wounded, while all the mounted officers had their horses shot under them. But it is clear that the regiment's advance had failed to drive off the skirmishers, athough it may have brought at least temporary relief to the other units in the division. It was fortunate that it made its advance and subsequent retreat without interference from enemy cavalry: Probably the hedges and ditch helped to protect it, though it was repeatedly threatened later in the day.

There are several things to say about this skirmish engagement:

1. It was carried out by British troops at the end of an era of effective skirmish operations, but still had difficulties with French skirmishers. And yes, there were new troops in the British forces, which may have been a factor.

2. Even with all the light companies out, the British could not prevent the French from inflicting casualties over an hour's time, which means the French were probably within 200 yards of the British formed troops, if not as much as 100 yards.

3. Wellington is the one to order a divisional commander to send out a regiment, which belies any claim that army commanders 'didn't involve themselves in skirmish activities.'

4. When pushed, Wellington opts for a tactic that military historians chide the Prussians in 1806 for believing will deal with skirmishers: Formed volleys and charges to disperse them.

5. Even with the charge, the skirmishers simply came back and forced the Camerons to lay down to avoid more casualties.

6. The British in an hour's time lost a lot of men…, particularly officers and artillerymen, before the Camerons themselves suffered more casualties.

Sparta24 Apr 2017 11:50 a.m. PST

Wonderfull quotes. They illustrate the point that against skirmishers you either had to deploy your own or use cavalry. Formed troops had a hard time and became very vulnerable.

Major Snort24 Apr 2017 1:16 p.m. PST

Although there certainly was plenty of skirmishing in the Napoleonic wars, I think there is a tendency to sometimes get carried away and see nothing but skirmishing.

Regarding the 79th at Quatre Bras:

Captain Mackenzie compiled the Historical Records of the 79th Regiment in the 1880's, so was not a witness to the events at Quatre Bras, so although this is presented as a primary source above, it clearly isn't. This has been covered before:

TMP link

Rory Muir presents this as evidence of a large number of casualties being inflicted by skirmishers, with the 79th helplessly flailing around trying to rid themselves of this nuisance. What really happened must have been quite different, as the charge of Kempt's brigade, in which the 79th participated, broke Bachelu's entire division and Foy had to send one of his regiments to stop the Highlanders (this is from Foy's own account). This was far more than masses of skirmishers shooting a close order line to pieces, and the 79th were opposed to formed troops during their charge and subsequent firefight. Artillery also took its toll.

Point number 5 in Mcladdie's post above claims that the 79th, having returned to their original position, had to lie down to avoid the skirmish fire that they had failed to stop. This is not the case. In eyewitness accounts, and even in Mackenzie's historical record, the 79th lay down to avoid the French artillery fire and the skirmishers are not mentioned again.

Major Snort24 Apr 2017 1:42 p.m. PST

In many period accounts, the term "skirmishing" seems to cover not only formal extended skirmish lines fighting in pairs with supports and reserves, but also troops fighting in disorderly masses, which may be the result of terrain or an inability to maintain any semblance of order.

For a discussion and questions about how an entire brigade or division could possibly all fight as skirmishers, as described in the quote above by Pelet posted by Mcladdie, check this old thread:

TMP link

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP24 Apr 2017 7:11 p.m. PST

What really happened must have been quite different, as the charge of Kempt's brigade, in which the 79th participated, broke Bachelu's entire division and Foy had to send one of his regiments to stop the Highlanders (this is from Foy's own account). This was far more than masses of skirmishers shooting a close order line to pieces, and the 79th were opposed to formed troops during their charge and subsequent firefight. Artillery also took its toll.

Yes, we have discussed this before. So you are saying that the events described never happened and instead there were no skirmishing and a charge by Kempt's brigade was the only action?

As I've stated before, there is no reason to doubt the description simply because Kempt's entire brigade did charge as some point. In fact, the question would be why Captain Machenzie in compiling the historical records would concoct such a fantasy. Whether Rory is correct in his analysis, that can be debated.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP24 Apr 2017 7:33 p.m. PST

From the previous discussion from the link provided by MS:

Regarding any difference between British and French skirmish practice, from the written instructions that have survived, there seems to have been very little difference at all.

The desciption of the skirmishing at Busaco by Pelet needs to be looked at carefully. In my opinion, he is not describing a typical skirmish screen, but rather the gradual disorder and disintigration of a brigade due to both enemy fire and the difficulties of the terrain.

I think this is a misconception. Pelet doesn't describe a 'typical skirmish screen' and that 'gradual disintegration is referred to by him as "Our system permitted French regiments to be dispersed during a battle…"

What a military system permits isn't simply disorder and disintegration due to either "enemy fire and the difficulties of the terrain." Nor is this a isolated action, but was part of the French 'system.' From the AAR of the 16th Leger at Jena:

The regiment advanced (in a column) left in front (laqauche en tete) towards the [Isserstadt] woods: the third battalion advanced into the woods in skirmishing order (en tirailleurs); the two first, marching still in column, went past the right of the woods and deployed in the plain at musketry range from the [Prussian] enemy artillery…This line formed, they commenced an active and well-aimed fire; marching then toward the enemy line, they approached to pistol range; they threw themselves into skirmishing order (se precipitant de la en tirailleurs) and seized directly (pied a pied) and energetically 11 pieces of artillery."

[Italics mine]

Now to say that either are the practice of a British light battalion or Light regiments [Which Pelet sees as different], I'd sure like to know of such examples. Certainly the French used similar methods as the British for skirmisher screens as did all nations, but from such battle reports, those are not the limits to the French 'system.'

MS Notes:

n many period accounts, the term "skirmishing" seems to cover not only formal extended skirmish lines fighting in pairs with supports and reserves, but also troops fighting in disorderly masses, which may be the result of terrain or an inability to maintain any semblance of order.

That is quite true. Here is a description from another French officer commanding new battalions that didn't know the French system at all:

Skirmishing in the combat at Dirschau on 23rd February 1807.

In October 1806, Lazare-Claude Coqueugniot became major and commander of the newly formed 1. Légion du Nord, whose four battalions were raised mainly from Poles amongst the Prussian prisoners of war. He writes about the combat at Dirschau (today Tczew in Poland, south of Danzig) on 23rd February 1807:

I could not maneuver my troops by column, nor deploy them, because my troop knew nothing and [chef de bataillon and commander of the 2nd batallion] Roumette was probably the only officer who knew something about maneuvers. I brought together the officers of the 2nd Battalion to inform that I intended to throw the whole battalion forward in skirmish order towards the front of the enemy line, which appeared to be patiently waiting for us.

I directed them to explain to their troops that, when a soldier was going to fire, he should move forward 20 paces [12,9 m] and then to get between two furrows to reload his musket, fire, and continue to advance in the same manner. After this, upon a musket shot, which I had indicated as the signal for movement, the companies scattered as they ran forward. Their fire was heavy and the skirmishers continuously advanced.

After a half-hour I saw, by the clearing of the smoke, that the enemy was maneuvering by platoon. The cavalry wished to charge, but I opposed it. I advanced the mounted troops, with four companies of the 3rd Battalion. This movement fired the audacity of the skirmishers, who threw themselves against the enemy. The enemy withdrew, in disorder, to return to the village, abandoning its [four] cannons, which the skirmishers captured.

This passage is an extract from the English translation of Coqueugniot's history of the Légion du Nord, done by George Nafziger and published in the Nafziger Collection with the title "The Légion du Nord, 1806-1808, Memoir of Major Coqueugniot.". The French version, "Histoire de la Légion du Nord 1806-1808. Memoire de L.C. Coqueugniot, Major.", has been republished in 1992 by Bernard Coppens in the Editions Bernard Coppens.

forwardmarchstudios Supporting Member of TMP24 Apr 2017 8:11 p.m. PST

Maj Snort-
Interesting link- it never really touched on the effectiveness of skirmishers, but the information on grande bands skirmishers was. My the away from that was that skirmishing with large bodies of troops was either 1) the purposeful deployment of battalions in the manner of a company skirmishing- a series of reserves and supports that feed the battalion (or possibly multi-battalion) sized skirmish line; or 2) the deterioration of control at the division level or below while fighting in broken terrain.

Major Snort25 Apr 2017 6:51 a.m. PST

Bill wrote:

Yes, we have discussed this before. So you are saying that the events described never happened and instead there were no skirmishing and a charge by Kempt's brigade was the only action?

No, I am not saying that. It is obvious that there was plenty of skirmishing. What I am saying is that the "two officers and twenty-eight men killed, sixteen officers and 259 men wounded" in your quote above were certainly not all inflicted by skirmish fire and that artillery fire and formed French infantry probably inflicted more damage.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP25 Apr 2017 7:23 a.m. PST

No, I am not saying that. It is obvious that there was plenty of skirmishing. What I am saying is that the "two officers and twenty-eight men killed, sixteen officers and 259 men wounded" in your quote above were certainly not all inflicted by skirmish fire and that artillery fire and formed French infantry probably inflicted more damage.

That is certainly a possible scenario, though I am not sure I could say 'probable' and Muir was definitely making some unsupported assumptions in giving his numbers. It is a difficult call to say what caused how many casualties without more information.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP25 Apr 2017 9:23 p.m. PST

I think the two things that are often missing in skirmish rules are

1. The fluid nature of the combat, where reserves and reinforcements could be and were added from the line when the commander decided they were needed up to entire battalions.

2. That fluid combat role is a problem, size and reinforcements being literally unlimited… difficult to represent with stands of infantry or cavalry, so 'rules' are created or assumed that have only one company or just specialists out to 'screen' as though there was some limit to how many men could be deployed if desired--regardless of the period or army with a variety of results, of course.

It is sort of like insisting that a army can't form a column because they weren't very good at it or it is simpler to limit the force to just a few because that is all they used at X battle or at the start of an engagement.

Sparta26 Apr 2017 3:47 a.m. PST

1. The fluid nature of the combat, where reserves and reinforcements could be and were added from the line when the commander decided they were needed up to entire battalions.

This is propably the major point. We have tried making a system where all units can send bases out to skirmish, but the reduction in men makes the close order units more vulnerable. Different units can have different effectiveness not an either/or situation.

One thing that struck me when reading Arnolds 1813 book on Lutzen was the transformation of the prussian army to a"skirmish army". They obviously had plenty of skirmishers at Jena. The difference was that units could dissolve themselve and stay in combat even if they had taken severe casualties. The "old style" had units retreat while still formed. So perhaps the "swarms of skirmishers" or a la debandade is when units stay in combat as skirmishers eventhough they are beaten or not combat effective as closed order formations??

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